The District of Houston’s council and mayor for the next four years were officially sworn in at a ceremony held at the community hall Nov. 1, 2022. From the left, councillor Lisa Mueller, councillor Rebecca Hougen, councillor Troy Reitsma, mayor Shane Brienen, councillor Jonathan Van Barneveld, councillor Tom Euverman and councillor Tom Stringfellow. Bookending the group, on the left, is Houston RCMP Constable Hank Lee and, on the right, Houston RCMP Constable Emile Rousseau. (Angelique Houlihan photo/Houston Today)

The District of Houston’s council and mayor for the next four years were officially sworn in at a ceremony held at the community hall Nov. 1, 2022. From the left, councillor Lisa Mueller, councillor Rebecca Hougen, councillor Troy Reitsma, mayor Shane Brienen, councillor Jonathan Van Barneveld, councillor Tom Euverman and councillor Tom Stringfellow. Bookending the group, on the left, is Houston RCMP Constable Hank Lee and, on the right, Houston RCMP Constable Emile Rousseau. (Angelique Houlihan photo/Houston Today)

Housing, inflation top mayor’s look ahead list for 2023

But Mayor Shane Brienen says he’s excited by opportunities

The community of Houston and its local government aren’t immune from any number of challenges being faced along Hwy16, around the province and across the country.

And there’s every indication that 2023 may offer more of the same challenges faced in 2022.

With that in mind, Houston Today posed a series of questions to Houston mayor Shane Brienen who is now starting his third term at the head of the District of Houston council table.

Q. What has been the most challenging situation faced by the community in the past year?

A. With all of the challenges our community has faced in recent years, 2022 felt like a year with more opportunities than challenges for our community. That being said, we recognize that many in our community had significant challenges to overcome during the last year. With escalating costs for basic necessities and a continued tight real estate and rental market in Houston, I know many community members struggled to maintain financial viability.

Q. What has been the most challenging situation faced by the District of Houston as a local government and its council in the past year?

A. The largest challenge that the District faced in the last year was maintaining continuity. We lost a member of our council early in 2022 when Councillor Tim Anderson moved away and then we had an election in the fall, which required significant resources and always creates a bit of uncertainty. Additionally we have several new team members join the District in the last year, which creates a bit of a lag in activity as new employees learn their positions.

Q. Forecasting is always a bit of an unknown, but what is the biggest challenge facing the community in 2023?

A. I believe that the largest challenges our community will continue to face in 2023 will be related to housing shortages and social issues that are emerging in communities across the province.

Q. And what is the biggest challenge facing the District as a local government and its council in 2023?

A. We are optimistic that 2023 will be a positive year for the community. We have a new council that is gelling very well and a strong team of employees. The largest challenge will likely be maintaining and progressing the large number of projects that the District has on the go. However, we will be completing strategic planning early in the new year, which will set priorities and provide direction for the remainder of the council term.

Q. What’s your fondest hope for the District in 2023?

A. We, along with communities across the region, are hopeful that we will be able to secure a resource benefits taxation sharing agreement with the province in 2023. We are building on the momentum gained with the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the province at the UBCM conference in the fall. Acting as the Bulkley-Nechako regional district’s representative on the Northwest BC Resource Benefits Alliance steering committee, I will certainly be working diligently throughout 2023 trying to secure the sharing agreement which will provide communities across our region desperately needed sustained funding and financial independence.

Q. If there was there an event or circumstance that more or less came out of nowhere that affected the District of Houston this past year, what would that be?

A. Our community was fortunate to not face any significant emergencies this past year. However, as to be expected, Houston had some surprises that impacted the community at large. A continued decline in medical services available for community members was a challenge for many, and the loss of several prominent community leaders including Russell Tilljoe were felt across the community.

Q. The community forest has been advocating for an expansion for years and now has a formal proposal before the provincial government. What do you think is the reluctance on the part of the province to consider the proposal? An expansion would seem to fit community needs of a stable income and the prospect for enhanced recreational opportunities for locals as well as visitors.

A. We are excited that the Dungate Community Forest board submitted the community forest expansion request with the province last year. We recognize that there are a lot of competing interests for a challenged fibre supply. However, the District is committed to working with the board to advocate on behalf of the need for the expansion of the community and we will continue to deliver this message to the province in 2023.